Gen Spaatz Biography

Carl A. Spaatz
General, United States Air Force

BORN JUNE 28, 1891 IN BOYERTOWN, Pennsylvania, Carl Andrew Spaatz (originally Spatz – he added an “a” in 1937) graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1914 and was commissioned in the infantry. After a year at Schofield barracks, Hawaii, he entered aviation training in San Diego, California, becoming one of the army’s first pilots in 1916 and winning promotion to first lieutenant in June. He advanced to captain in May 1917 and was ordered to France in command of the 31st Aero Squadron. He organized and directed the aviation training school at Issoudon and by the end of the war had managed to get just three weeks’ combat duty, during which he shot down three German aircraft. In June 1918 he was promoted to temporary major.

During 1919-1920 he served as assistant air officer for the Western Department; he reverted to captain in February 1920 and received promotion to permanent major in July. Spaatz served as commander of Mather Field, California, in 1920; as commander of Kelly Field, Texas, in 1920-1921; as air officer, VIII Corps, in 1921; as commander of the 1st Pursuit Group of Selfridge Field, Michigan, in 1922-1924; in the office of the chief of the Air Corps in 1925-29; as commander of the 7th Bombardment Group at Rockwell field, California, and subsequently of Rockwell Field in 1929-1931; and as commander of the 1st Bombardment Wing at March Field, California, in 1931-1933. During January 1-7, 1929, Spaatz and Captain Ira C. Eaker established a flight endurance record of 150 hours, 40 minutes, in a Fokker aircraft, the Question Mark, over Los Angeles. After two years as chief of the training and operations division in the office of the chief of Air Corps and promotion to lieutenant colonel in September 1935, he entered the Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, graduating in 1936. He was executive officer of the 2nd Wing at Langley Field, Virginia, until 1939 and then again joined the staff of the chief of the Air Corps. After a tour of observation in England in 1940 he was promoted to temporary brigadier general and named to head the material division of the Air Corps, and in July 1941 he became chief of the air staff under General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, chief of the (renamed) Army Air Force.

In January 1941 he was appointed chief of the Air Force Combat Command. Later in that year he returned to England to begin planning the American air effort in Europe. In May he became commander of the Eighth Air Force, and in July he was designated commander of U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe. In November he went to North Africa to reorganize the Allied air forces there for General Dwight D. Eisenhower, becoming commander of the Allied Northwest African Air Forces (NWAAF) in February 1943. In march he was promoted to temporary lieutenant general. from March to December 1943 he was also commander of the Twelfth Air Force, a unit of the NWAAF, which took part in both the North Africa and Sicily campaigns. In January 1944 Spaatz was named commander of the Strategic Air Force in Europe; his command included the Eighth Air Force under General James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, based in England, and the Fifteenth Air Force under General Nathan F. Twining, based in Italy, and had responsibility for all deep bombing missions against the German homeland. In March 1945 he was promoted to temporary general, and in July, war in Europe having ended, he took command of Strategic Air Force in the Pacific. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place under his command.

In March 1946 he succeeded General Arnold as commander in chief of the Army Air Forces, and he became the first chief of staff of the independent air force in September 1947. He held that post until retiring in July 1948 in the rank of general (he had been permanent major general since June 1946). He served subsequently as chairman of the Civil Air Patrol and for a time contributed a column to Newsweek magazine. Spaatz died in Washington, D.C., on July 14, 1974 and was interred on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 1977.

From Webster’s American Military Biographies, Merriam Co., 1978. 497p., Carl Spaatz, pp.404-405.

Summaries of Other Spaatz Biographies

Carl A. Spaatz was the top American air commander of the Second World War, with both Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley rating him the best combat leader in the European theater. After the war he became the first chief of staff of the newly independent Air Force. There are two excellent biographies of this important airman, the first by David R. Mets at the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, titled Master of Airpower: General Carl A. Spaatz (Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1988). Mets relies heavily on the voluminous Spaatz papers in the Library of Congress, as well as dozens of interviews, but the general’s personality remains somewhat elusive. Instead, we are provided a survey of American airpower’s evolution through World War II, rather than an indepth look at the man who mastered the new air weapon.

Spaatz is portrayed as a “doer” and problem solver who achieved results. He was also an outstanding pilot who shot down three German aircraft in World War I (for which he won the Distinguished Service Cross) and flew aboard the Question Mark in 1929. When war broke out in 1939, Spaatz became the Air Corps’s chief planner, then moved to England to command the Eighth Air Force in 1942, the Northwest African Air Force in 1943, and the US Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) in Europe in 1944. He was perhaps the only man totally trusted by Hap Arnold-while being held in similar high regard by Dwight Eisenhower. Although a very thorough piece of scholarship, Mets had trouble with his sponsors who insisted upon removing much material that was either “too personal” or insufficiently complimentary towards Spaatz and the USAF. The result is a somewhat impersonal portrait that also glosses some of the controversial issues in which Spaatz played such a major role.

Spaatz’s other biographer is Richard G. Davis, Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992). This is an outstanding effort. Unlike Mets, Davis did not write a fulllength biography, but concentrated on Spaatz’s activities during World War II. The result is an extremely detailed, exhaustively researched, balanced, and quite readable account. Some of the issues examined in especially effective fashion include: the North African invasion and the difficulties experienced in command and control of air assets; Army FM 10020, Command and Employment of Air Power, the “magna carta” of airpower that proclaimed airpower was the equal of ground power; Spaatz’s error in not recognizing the importance of longrange escort aircraft; the momentous Casablanca conference of January 1943 and its impact on air operations; the bombing assault on the island of Pantelleria that resulted in surrender without an invasion being necessary; the transfer of Ira Eaker to the Mediterranean and Doolittle’s assumption of command at Eighth Air Force; the thorny command relationships among the senior Allied leaders prior to the Normandy invasion; the controversy surrounding the rail and oil plans in early 1944; and the use of strategic bombers in a tactical role during the campaign in France. Also included are excellent maps, organizational charts, and statistical appendices.

In addition, Davis provides a particularly good discussion of the attack on Dresden in February 1945. This has always been a contentious issue because of the number of lives lost, the lateness of the war, and the cultural significance of the city. Davis concludes the city was a legitimate military target, the AAF did attempt to precisely bomb the city’s marshaling yards, and that if opprobrium attaches to anyone, it should be Winston Churchill who specifically asked that east German cities be bombed to create refugees and spread havoc. Interestingly, although claiming Dresden was an unfortunate victim of circumstance, Davis argues such was not the case for Berlin. He maintains Spaatz placed the German capital in a different category, ordering attacks on “city center” and employing the maximum number of incendiary bombs. As a result, the USSTAF’s attacks on Berlin were largely indistinguishable from the area attacks of Bomber Command.

Overall, Davis provides much detail and excellent insight into how Spaatz led and managed the American air effort in Europe and how he increased the magnitude of air attacks and made it both efficient and effective at destroying its assigned targets. If there is a shortcoming, it is Davis’s inability to explain clearly how Spaatz and his staff selected targets, what specific effect they were trying to achieve (collapse of morale, revolt, decrease in production, loss of fighting spirit at the front, etc.), and how they measured success. Davis argues strenuously that oil was the key target and Spaatz was correct in singling it out, but he provides no cogent logic or analysis to support this contention. Nonetheless, this is an outstanding book-perhaps the best, though partial, biography of an airman written to date. It sets a high standard by which other biographies should be measured.


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